An unintentional masking experiment is taking place in the Killeen Independent School District as a portion of the district is federally required to wear masks while the rest of the schools are not.
Out of KISD’s 51 schools, eight campuses located within the gates of Fort Hood must comply with a federal Department of Defense order requiring masks which effectively trumps Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order preventing state and local government agencies from issuing mask mandates.
Masks are optional at KISD facilities outside of Fort Hood.
According to an analysis of KISD’s COVID-19 data, as of Friday, Fort Hood’s federal mask mandate appears to coincide with a lower rate of coronavirus transmission at on-post campuses.
While other unmasked KISD schools are on an upward COVID-19 case trajectory, many reporting double-digit case numbers Friday, five out of eight Fort Hood schools reported COVID-19 case numbers holding steady in the single digits.
To mask or not to mask has become a statewide debate as more than 60 school districts across the Lone Star State have opted to buck Abbott’s executive order in favor of locally enforced mask mandates.
The most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor masking for all individuals age 2 years and older, including students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Multiple pro-mask mandate protests and rallies have taken place outside KISD’s administration building since school started on Aug. 16. During the district’s most recent school board meeting on Aug. 24, dozens of people requested the school board institute a mask mandate for the safety of students and staff. KISD Superintendent John Craft, and board members Susan Jones and Corbett Lawler, have said they will not support violating the governor’s executive order.
KISD launched its newly redesigned COVID-19 online dashboard on Aug. 26 which includes confirmed coronavirus cases the district has received since Aug. 16.
According to the school district’s data, mask-mandated Fort Hood schools appear to be reporting a slower progression of COVID-19 transmission than non-mask mandated KISD schools.
About 15% of KISD campuses are located on Fort Hood, and Fort Hood students account for 11% of KISD’s 400 total COVID-19 case count Friday.
The first day the dashboard data was released, 34 off-post KISD schools were reporting five or fewer positive COVID-19 cases. As cases continued to rise throughout the week, by Friday, 21 off-post KISD schools were reporting five or fewer COVID-19 positive cases.
On Aug. 26, seven out of eight on-post schools, were reporting five or fewer COVID-19 cases. By the end of the school week, five out of eight on-post Fort Hood KISD schools were reporting five or fewer active COVID-19 cases since the start of school.
In contrast, 11 off-post KISD schools were reporting COVID-19 cases in the double digits on Friday. Killeen High School reported 38 cases — the highest reported case count in the district as of Friday.
While additional time may be needed to draw a distinct comparison between KISD’s masked and unmasked schools, local pro-mask supporters argue the lack of a face mask mandate may mean the difference in life and death for students and staff exposed to COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic.
Last school year, at least two KISD teachers died of COVID-19.
Thursday the Herald received reports that four KISD employees have died since the start of this school year.
The Herald’s request for the number of district employee deaths was forwarded to the district’s public information office, which has up to 10 business days to respond.
While KISD did not confirm four reported deaths, KISD spokeswoman Taina Maya did acknowledge the district lost “two employees” at two separate campuses due to COVID.
“As you can imagine this is a very sensitive situation,” Maya said Thursday. “The loss of any employee is always tragic, and we will continue to support the two campuses from a district level and through our guidance and counseling department.”
On Saturday, the district reported 425 positive coronviruas cases — 338 students and 81 staff members — a positivity rate of 0.86% among the over 43,000 students and 6,8000 staff members in KISD.